Guaranteeing that the whole crowd sees something wonderful, after so long away, creates a kind of stress. “There is pressure to deliver not just good acting, but to deliver something that people can bounce joy off,” Ming-Trent said.
Ali tries not to think about the pressure too much. Bioh just hopes the Senegalese woman who braids her hair likes it. Eustis bet that the production would have a secret ally in the audience. “Because we’re going to be celebrating each other,” he said.
And the creative team trusts that a production centered on the African diaspora will make the audience think about which communities we typically celebrate in the theater and beyond it. “We’ve been talking so much about how theater is going to be different when we come back,” Ali said. “In some radically subversive way, this play and this community and this particular production contribute to that conversation.”
After a year centered largely on Black pain, Bioh wants to offer a theatrical alternative. “Joy is a part of our experience as well,” she said. “So I’m glad people get to come back and laugh. It should be a good time.”
On a sun-strafed Monday in late June, with the seats too hot to touch, the cast gathered at the Delacorte for a first walk through of Beowulf Boritt’s streetscape set. Soberly, the heads of various departments outlined Covid-19 protocols, safety protocols, the code of conduct. An open manhole cover on the stage could constitute a fall hazard, one staffer warned. It had taken so much negotiation, testing and care to bring all of these people to the park, it would take so much more to deliver them to opening night.
But in that midday heat, those complications momentarily evaporated. Ali, in a baseball cap, shorts and a mask, leapt to the stage. He took in the hundred or so colleagues — actors, designers administrators, stage managers, house managers and compliance officers — arrayed below. And then, clutching the mic, he spoke. “We’re here,” he said. “We’re here. We’re here.”